This privacy violation is not yet rated

“This film is not yet rated” is an interesting self-referential movie that reads on very different levels. Directed by Kirby Dick and produced by Eddie Schmidt who maintains the corresponding blog titled This blog is not yet rated, it is a critical examination of the rating system used by MPAA, considered one of the great legacies from Jack Valenti’s 30+ year tenure.

The documentary, which itself earned the scarlet-letter of an NC-17 rating, attempts to unearth the secretive rating board responsible for assigning the famous G/PG/PG-13/R/NC-17 classifications. Many people are interviewed, each one supporting the main contention: the ratings system is a cabal that restricts speech and/or artistic creativity by threatening to assign the dreaded NC-17 label that dooms an aspiring production to the obscurity of art-house theaters, away from the mainstream screens. (Those interviewed include Stanford’s Larry Lessig.)

Independent of whether one agrees with this line of argument, even more striking is the extent that Kirby Dick has gone to shine the light on the system. MPAA does not disclose the identity of raters, in order to protect them from influence according to the party line. No problem– the director hires a private investigator to unmask them. A good chunk of the documentary cover his pain-staking effort. She parks her minivan outside the MPAA headquarters in LA, watching for cars, watching the cars driving out, binoculars in hand, running license plates to get names and addresses.
Is it stalking? Arguably everything done is legal but very intrusive. License plates are blurred on screen as a nod to privacy, but in that very scene those same plates are being recited by the PI to her assistant, loud and clear. All the usual gumshoe/PI tricks are there: one scene filmed in greenish infrared camera hues shows the PI dumpster-diving outside a rater’s house. Along with the director, they drive to an empty spot and go over the trash, uncovering actual rating forms. There is even the mandatory high-speed pursuits,seen from the vantage point of the van when our fearless team chases a group of suspected raters to a restaurant.

As far as investigative reporting goes, this is a very comprehensive job. Not only are they taking names, but they are publishing them: along with pictures and low-resolution video. The viewers get treated to an “MPAA class of 2006” display, with names and pictures of the raters. For bonus points, add demographic information: age, marital status, children– the last one relevant to the subject because MPAA contends that the raters are representative parents with children aged between 5 and 17. (That claim is proven wrong for at least a handful of the raters.)

It is difficult to sympathize with MPAA or the ratings system, although it is also difficult to agree with one of the experts’ contention that the system is unconstituional on first amendment grounds. In its zeal to build a compelling case against the injustices of rating, the documentary decides to go after the raters themselves. Such anger is misdirected because the raters are not the architects of the system; they are low-level employees (“errand boy” is how Col Kurtz might put it from the R-rated Apocalypse Now) chosen for their role not because of a profound understanding of movie history, but precisely for the lack of any such unique talent, except for being the “average” parent. By publishing their names, filming them in everyday activities such as eating lunch and setting them up for easy ridicule in front of a movie audience, the documentary has made collateral damage out of their individual privacy.


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